Archive for January, 2007

Smokin’ Aces Is… Well… Smokin’!

January 29, 2007

Smokin' Aces - Buddy "Aces" IsraelMake no mistake about it, Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces will, no doubt, be savaged by a lot of critics. It's a loud, messy, explosive, twisted action flick with little-to-no redeeming values. Fortunately, it's also a lot of fun…CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

 

 

 

 

 

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Smokin' Aces onesheet

When I saw the trailer for Smokin' Aces, last year, I was mesmerized. It was wall-to-wall action – kinetic energy compressed into a small a container as possible, so that when it exploded, it became an irresistible force. I vowed that I would see any movie that could have such a purely entertaining trailer. Does Smokin' Aces live up to its trailer? Not quite – but I doubt any movie could have lived up to that trailer. It does come pretty close, though…

The set-up is as simple as it gets: a mob informer [legendary showman Buddy "Smokin'" Aces] is about to rat on what remains of the American Cost Nostra, and crime boss has put out a one million contract on him. Word leaks out about this big payday and soon every freelance contractor out there is headed for Lake Tahoe, where Buddy is holed up in a penthouse suite with a coterie of bodyguards and hookers.

The huge cast includes Jeremy Piven [Buddy], Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds and the proverbial many, many more. The plot arcs that involve each of their characters are developed separately come together in a gigantic blowout over the film's third act.

Smokin' Aces - Henson & Keys

Frankly, I can't begin to describe the chaos that's set up in the first act. You have word leaking out about the contract, and meet all the players [handily identified by onscreen graphics, a la Guy Ritchie] – the bounty hunters [Affleck, Peter Berg and Martin Henderson]; skinhead racists, the Tremor Brothers [Chris Pine, Kevin Durand and Maury Sterling]; the black women, Sharice [Taraji P. Henson] and Georgia [Keys], and more.

There's nothing particularly subtle about Smokin' Aces – a huge twist is given away really early, but it's just a beard for a sweeter twist that pops up in the last five minutes. What is impressive about the film is the way Carnahan [who wrote and directed] juggles his multiple character arcs. He may not be another Tarantino, but he does move his story along with deft camera moves and frequently unexpected cuts. His cast is fully aware that this is little more than a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions and provides him with a series of gleeful performances that give a further edge to the proceedings.

If you like movies where things get "blowed up real good" or the phrase "we need bigger guns" was part of their spine, then you will enjoy Smokin' Aces. This is a film that can be described as lunatic carnage. It has a peculiar energy of its own that differentiates it from other multi-arced movies – a kind of super-manic edge that just spews adrenaline throughout the theater. This is possibly the ultimate "boys and their toys" movie – at least that's set in the present.

Grade: A-

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Blood and Chocolate: Supernatural Romeo & Juliet Lacks Bite!

January 29, 2007

Blood and Chocolate Movie ReviewOne sign a movie might not be very good is that it gets no press screening. Another is that it's advertised as being "From the producers of…" Yet another is if it's a remake of a European film. If these three conditions exist for the same film, the recommended course of action is to stay away. I didn't, and I wish I had…CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

As noted above, Blood and Chocolate wants to be a supernatural Romeo & Juliet. It's a tale of starcrossed lovers in the classic mode – he's a graphic novelist [who bridles at the term "comic books"] and she's a werewolf, next in line to be the bride ["MATE! She proclaims, unhappily] of the pack leader. She also has a meddling fool of a cousin, who has an unfortunately tendency to break the rules [he's the pack leader's son, so he figures no one's going to complain too loudly].

Performance DVDs: Inside The Actor’s Studio: Dave Chappelle; Pablo Francisco: OUCH!

January 29, 2007

Inside The Actor's Studio - Dave ChappelleBoth Dave Chappelle and Pablo Francisco have been described as "outrageous" comedians. In the case of Chappelle, whose appearance on Inside The Actor's Studio is now available on DVD, the term applies in the sense that his comedy pushes the envelope and is funny. Francisco, whose concert DVD OUCH! Is also currently available, is outrageous only in the sense that he has mistaken language and racial stereotyping as edgy – also, he's not funny. CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

 

 

 

 

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Dave Chappelle

Inside The Actor's Studio: Dave Chappelle

At the top of Inside The Actor's Studio: Dave Chappelle, host James Lipton takes a moment to correct a misperception about the series. The Actor's Studio is not a school that is limited to teaching acting, or directing, or writing – it is a school that teaches all aspects of performance. Hence, guests to the TV series like Jennifer Lopez, Will Ferrell and, of course, Dave Chappelle. Then he digs in.

Over the course of the double length episode, we learn a lot about Chappelle – from his humble beginnings to the real reasons he walked off Chappelle's Show and away from the almost ridiculous sum of fifty million dollars. During the interview, Chappelle and Lipton actually trade comedic riffs on a number of subjects, as well, showing a side of Lipton that fans of the show have only glimpsed previously.

But, as is usually the case, Lipton focuses the attention on Chappelle and his questions are both well researched and incisive. Chappelle, for his part, does not evade even the toughest queries. He is remarkably candid, and frequently blunt in his responses – and it's clear that he is enjoying the experience.

Features include: Great Moments That Didn't Make The Cut – moments that were cut for time [many as good as what aired], and James Lipton: Flashbacks.

Inside The Actor's Studio: Dave Chappelle – Grade: A

Features – Grade: C-

Final Grade: B+

Pablo Francisco - OUCH! - box art

Pablo Francisco – OUCH!

The blurb on the box for OUCH! Reads: "Pablo Francisco may be the most outrageous comedian in the country…" Well, he's a charismatic guy, with a riveting stage presence. He struts and prowls across the stage, posing ferociously, and occasionally standing almost statute-still, or sitting like an emperor on a throne. He sweats, he puffs, his muscles bulge. He has a strong, expressive voice that really doesn't need that mic to reach the back of the room. The problem is, he's not particularly funny. You could say that he has all the tools – all he's lacking is the toolbox.

Francisco attacks all sorts of subjects over the course of this concert: movies, music, video games, parents – whole great bunches of the experiences that make up our lives. Unfortunately, most of his comic ruminations are more sad that funny.

His rants on racial stereotypes, for example, feature several accents that are exactly alike. His observations amount to clich

Gryphon Makes The Most Of The Most Dangerous Night Of Television!

January 26, 2007

Gryphon's Amber BensonWith its array of in-house and acquired B-movies, Sci Fi Channel has staked out [branded] Saturday night as "The Most Dangerous Night of Television." One of the more interesting movies to air under the new branding is a sword & sorcery adventure called Gryphon [Saturday, 9/8C], a not-so-epic tale that is fun for some good reasons, and even more fun for some wrong ones… CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

A land divided, Vallon has been suffering through a civil war for a decade. Now, however, a wicked sorcerer has subverted the supernatural guardian on of the warring factions and turned it to helping him become immortal. The two houses that have been at war must now join forces or the sorcerer will unite the land under his evil rule…

There is very little that is new here. Each house has an heir [one prince, played by Jonathan LaPaglia; one princess, played by Amber Benson]; the heirs must join forces to find a certain weapon [a supernaturally enhanced pike that has been split in two and hidden] in order to kill the gryphon before an eclipse. If they fail, both the gryphon and the evil sorcerer [Larry Drake] will become immortal.

What makes Gryphon more entertaining than the average B-movie take on the epic fantasy is the very contemporary manner in which the characters speak – there are no thees and thous here. The prince has an aw-fer-crying-out-loud demeanor that makes him one of the guys among his men – though it is never in doubt that he is in command. The princess is a warrior in mail armor and a dirty face. One of the movie's fun ironies is that she, who really doesn't need one, has an assigned protector [and what a grouch he is, too].

Gryphon - Sci fi Title Page

When the prince sets out to find the pike, he encounters the princess and her men in The Valley of the Dead – and ghostly figures spirit away some of their men and spook their horses. As a result, he becomes her captive – with all the expected twists that you might expect. [What? You say they fall in love? Get outta here!]

Another interesting thing is that all the actors speak in their own native accents, resulting in a mix that adds an odd verisimilitude to the film – and actually helps make some of the more clich

Romance, Road Trips and Action: Brokeback Mountain Collectors’ Edition, The Puffy Chair and Crank

January 25, 2007

Brokeback Mountain 2-Disc Collector's Edition Box ArtEvery now and then, we need to be reminded that you don't necessarily need tons of money to make a good movie. Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain 2-Disc Collector's Edition, the Duplass Brothers' The Puffy Chair, and Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor's Crank may not have cost the earth, but they're more entertaining than most $100-million dollar blockbusters…CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brokeback Mountain - Box Art

 

Brokeback Mountain 2-Disc Collector's Edition

When Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain was released, it faced a huge backlash from many of the more conservative elements in North American society. Then, it became hit, playing well in every corner of the continent – including America's so-called blue states. The film's title even entered the contemporary vernacular.

Now, Universal has released a 2-disc collector's edition of the film. The film, itself, is still an odd combination of romance and impact study – almost as much of the film deals with the effects of Ennis [Heath Ledger] and Jack's [Jake Gyllenhaal] romance on their families as deals with the actual romance. If anything, the film works even better on repeated viewings – its combination of John Ford-like vistas and ultra-focused intimate moments stand out even more.

Features reprised from the original DVD [now included on disc two] are: "Directing From The Heart: Ang Lee" – a featurette in which Lee discusses the reasons he wanted to do the film – oddly enough the featurette could use more of Lee, and less of everyone else; "From Script to Screen: Interviews With Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana" – the best of the featurettes because they actually get to go into detail about their writing process on the project; "Sharing The Experience: The Making of Brokeback Mountain" – an adequate behind-the-scenes featurette; "On Being a Cowboy" – a look at the "cowboy boot camp" that the cast went through.

The new features are: disc one's A Groundbreaking Success – a featurette that looks at the manner in which the film grew to have a huge emotional impact, worldwide – and cast and crew reflections on the phenomenon; disc two's Music From The Mountain – an in-depth look at the music of the film, from score to individual songs, and Impressions From The Film – a montage of still photos that highlight the "power and beauty of the film."

There are still no commentaries – something that such an important film would warrant – and while the new featurettes are pretty cool, the photo montage seems redundant when we can just see the images in the actual film, in context, and marvel. There are also "collectable" postcards with scenes from the film – another case of repackaging that seems redundant. Still, the new featurettes are definitely worth having if you haven't already sprung for the earlier DVD release.

Brokeback Mountain – Grade: A

Features – Grade: B+

Final Grade: A-

The Puffy Chair - Box Art

The Puffy Chair

Shot on an ultra-low budget, The Puffy chair is another of those small gems that wows

Pan’s Labyrinth: Del Toro’s Creepy, Poignant Fairy Tale For Adults Is A Masterpiece!

January 22, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth - PosterGuillermo Del Toro's films have all been detours into the highly imaginative realms – from horror to comics. They have all been smart, effective films and earned him a reputation as one of the best directors in the world. Pan's Labyrinth elevates him to the next level: one of the best of the best…

Pan's Labyrinth is set in the fascist Spain of post-World War II. Ofelia [Ivana Baquero] reluctantly accompanies her pregnant mother, Carman [Ariadna Gil] to a weary outpost to join her stepfather – Captain Vidal [Sergi Lopez] – who insists that his son be born there. Before they even arrive, Ofelia stumbles upon a stone carving of a face that's missing an eye – a piece of stone she's found nearby. When she replaces the eye, a strange, huge bug emerges from the mouth of the stone face.

When we first meet The Captain, he's muttering about his wife and daughter being fifteen minutes late. When they arrive, he's all courtly manners, but there's something in the way he disliked there being late that makes his manners seem a charade. Soon afterward, we learn that our suspicions are right – his treatment of two hunters is so casually and fatally violent that we know this is a man who is genuinely evil.

Meanwhile, Ofelia and her mother have settled into bed together – Ofelia telling her unborn brother a bedtime story that comes right out of the Grimm sensibility. After her mother falls asleep, the strange bug appears – and transforms into a fairy! Ofelia follows it into the garden and a dark labyrinth.

Pan's Labyrinth - Ofelia

In its center is a large well-like hole, with a descending staircase. Ofelia follows it to the bottom and meets Pan [physically performed by Doug Jones] who tells her she is actually a princess and must perform three tasks to be reunited with her real father. Naturally, these tasks are dangerous – and have obstacles with serious repercussions.

The juxtaposition of Ofelia's fairy tale world and the real world is effective in the extreme. Both worlds are dangerous – even horrifying – but there's a feeling of something better waiting at the end of the girl's quest, while the world of The Captain seems filled with endless pain. Even so, even Ofelia's fantasy world promises tragedy if the rules aren't followed.

One of Del Toro's cleverest devices is the manner in which Ofelia's fairy tale world affects the real – the use of a classic fairy tale device to help alleviate Carmen's suffering, for example, effectively blurs the lines between what is real and what is not. The care given to the blurring of FX also contributes to the film's success. It is impossible to tell where practical effects meet CGI, giving the whole a feel that is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

In a world where an outpost of soldiers is still at war with rebel guerillas, it's hard to point to anything specific to say that this creates a contrast that helps build suspense – the film's palette ranges from grays to dark blues and blacks. The suspense – and horror – that builds in the film comes from the characters. As evil as The Captain is, behind his courtly manners, Ofelia and her mother are equally as good – as is the maid, Mercedes [Maribel Verdu], who is also a mole for the rebels.

Pan's Labyrinth - Pan & Ofelia

Ofelia's tasks remind of the twelve tasks of Hercules – adding a certain extra mythological resonance beyond the presence of Pan, while The Captain's intelligence adds to the depths of the horrors he promulgates. There is a balance here that Del Toro establishes early on, and hews to with a surety that makes Pan's Labyrinth one of the most enthralling films of the last twenty years. Then, to cap things off, Del Toro builds to a conclusion that is simultaneously joyous and tragic.

Pan's Labyrinth is a genuine masterpiece. Del Toro's script walks the line between Good and Evil, Innocence and Knowledge. His characters are as real as they are symbolic, and his love for high drama – both real and fantastic – is the heart of the film [along with Ofelia's determination and purity]. Visually, the film is complex without being off-putting: both the real and the fantastic have weight and depth.

Since the film revolves around Ofelia, Del Toro required a young actor who could make us believe the two worlds that her life straddles. In Baquero, he found a remarkable actor who, like our own Dakota Fanning, is capable of detail, precision and nuance. She also has the luminescent beauty and curiosity of the innocent. Her performance is as masterful as Del Toro's script and direction.

Of course, this being a Guillermo Del Toro film, there are homages and quotes all over the place to delight his fans and knowledgeable film and comics fans. One that stood out for me was the window in Ofelia's bedroom [after she is made to sleep apart from her mother]. It is the window from Doctor Strange's sanctum. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, but one that also adds resonance to this magical movie.

Grade: A+

NBC’s Heroes Begin To Come Together!

January 21, 2007

Heroes - GodsendAs the fall finale of NBC's Heroes [Mondays, 9/8C] came to a conclusion, we were locked into a fractured, nightmarish sequence that put all of the program's main characters in New York City just as the foretold explosion was about to take place. The scariest single image was that of Peter Petrelli beginning to glow…CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

When Heroes returns on Monday night, we find out, immediately, what that nightmarish sequence was all about – but it's only the tip of the proverbial iceberg! The younger Petrelli [Milo Ventimiglia] is in a hospital – in a coma – with an incredible fever that is worsening by the second; Claire [Hayden Panetierre] is trying to reconnect with Zach [whose memories were wiped in the fall finale]; Matt [Greg Grunberg] and his FBI partner [Clea Duvall] are in Texas, investigating Mr. Bennett's [Jack Coleman] paper factory; Niki [Ali Larter] is in prison – in solitary, in fact, thanks to Jessica; and Hiro [Masi Oka] has decided that a legendary sword is what he needs to regain control of his powers…

Over the first half of the series' first season, we've seen how each of the main characters has dealt [or not] with their powers. For some they are a curse; others have no idea what to make of them, and one is enthusiastically embracing them. We've learned about the theory that these characters are the next stage in the evolutionary process – though there will, undoubtedly, be others who think they are unwitting pawns in some kind of conspiracy.

 

Heroes - Painting of Claire

 

Now that we've become familiar with the individual characters – and their unique situations – it seems that they are slowly coming together in small groups, possibly working toward a united effort to thwart the predicted nuclear explosion. This week's episode, Godsend, gives us new information, new character struggles, and one or two very intriguing confrontations. We get glimpses of Ted [remember the radioactive man?] in a desolate location, and Sylar [Zachary Quinto] in a near comatose state.

Matt decides to be completely honest with his wife ["I hear people's thoughts…"]; Mr. Bennett confers with Mohinder [Sendhill Ramamurthy]; Christopher Eccleston's as yet unnamed character makes his highly unorthodox entrance; Hiro's powers take an odd turn when he really needs them; and so much more that it's hard to believe the writers squeezed it all into under forty-five minutes of actual episode [and even harder to believe that Godsend doesn't feel cramped, or rushed].

With all the theories that are out, I'm not going to posit where the series might going – beyond stopping the explosion [my fearless prediction: they might just stop it…]. What I can do, with a reasonable possibility of success, is say that if you love this show Godsend will not disappoint. For a combination of intrigue and adventure, Godsend ranks as one of the two or three best eps to date.

Grade: A

Solid Dresden Files May Disappoint Fans Of The Books

January 21, 2007

Dresden Files - Paul BlackthorneSciFi's The Dresden Files [Sundays, 9/8C] spotlights the adventures of Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in the Chicago Yellow Pages. If the first two episodes are any indication, the series captures the spirit of the original series of novel but many of the changes required for TV may alienate readers of the books – even though the series does capture the feel of the books…CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

As a fan of the novels, I was eager to see how the The Dresden Files series translated to television. The good news is that Paul Blackthorne [a wizardly name if ever there was one] does a remarkable job of portraying the world-weary wizard. He perfectly captures Harry's attitudes and dedication.

In the series premiere, Birds of a Feather, a young boy named Scott comes to Harry claiming that monsters are after him – shortly after Harry has a series of dreams about his youth, and monsters. Harry is skeptical, but after his "associate" Bob [Terrence Mann] chides him about ignoring the boy, Harry decides to just check things out. Then the boy is kidnapped – and something nasty wants to know where Harry hid him! Somehow, this ties into a gruesome murder that's being investigated by Lt. Connie Murphy [Valerie Cruz].

Episode two, The Boone Identity, revolves around a shattered Egyptian tablet called The Lock of Anubis. When Harry is called in to learn whether a grieving father's daughter, Lisa, is haunting him, the girl's ghost makes herself most emphatically known. She was killed during the theft of the tablet, and her killer was apparently killed in a failed carjacking in his attempt to escape.

Dresden Files - Cast Photo

Somehow, Harry figures out what ties the murder, the theft, a jailed expert in things Egyptian and a man with a large collection of Egyptian artifacts together. Along the way, he angers Lt. Murphy. In this instance, his questioning of the collector results in complaints to City Hall, further clouding Harry's investigation.

Like the books, the TV series seems more to be about the characters than the magic – though the magic is far lesser supply than in the books – and here is where followers of Jim Butcher's books may be more than a little disconcerted.

To begin with, the short, cute, tough as nails Irish blonde Karrin Murphy of the books has been replaced with a tall, exotically beautiful, tough as nails Hispanic woman. Next, Bob is no longer a skull, but rather, a ghost [which can be explained by budgetary considerations]. Also, Dresden's basement – with its sub-basement lab – has been replaced by a main floor storefront, and technology hasn't yet gone on the fritz around him. Even the wizard's faithful Blue Beetle [a battered, once-blue 60s vintage Volkswagen] has been replaced by a Jeep, and the enchanted duster is replaced by a standard leather jacket [however battered]. Finally, possibly most egregiously, Dresden's behemoth of a cat, Mister, is nowhere to be found [Mister is pivotal to the plotlines of several of the novels, as he becomes a means for Bob to leave the lab and dig up information for Harry].

Dresden Files - Harry Dresden

Although the first two episodes of The Dresden Files capture the spirit of the books, the idea of standalone episodes with background arcs doesn't really suit the character. Both Birds of a Feather and The Boone Identity feel like they've been shoehorned into the format. And then there's the lack of magic – while the series budget may not allow for a lot of FX, there are very few instances in the program's first two eps that really show Harry to be a wizard. Instead, he comes across as a private eye with a few unorthodox tricks – and that's not quite right.

The production values are hard to judge from the advance screener that SciFi sent out, because some of the FX are unfinished, so maybe things will be more magical in the final cuts of the two eps. Still, if you're doing a series about a wizard, he should do something worthy of the title at least once per episode [we'll accept his contact with Lisa in The Boone Identity – even though it's Lisa who does the contacting, simply because it's the most overt of the two magic set pieces in the first two eps – the second involves a magically enhanced object that we never see being enhanced…].

Overall, the cast performs well and the episodes move at an appropriate pace. The basic story ideas are pretty cool, and the mood is very Harry – but the real test of the show's potential for success will come when they adapt stories from the books [coming soon, according to the press kit] – and we get to meet the Council's enforcer, Morgan [Conrad Coats]. For now, though, I'll have to consider The Dresden Files as promising. It is fun, and it is entertaining, but it's not quite there yet.

Grade: C+

Stargate:SG-1 Movies A Go

January 15, 2007

Corey Feldman to Do Charity Concert

January 15, 2007

 Corey Feldman has battled vampires in The Lost Boys. He buddied up with River Phoenix in Stand By Me. Now he's kicking it old school in a free concert at The Plaza Club (881 Granville Street) on Friday, January 19 as the singer in his seven-member band The Truth Movement.